DaSilva’s proposed East Providence Rec Center would cost $45 million to construct

Multi-faceted project would include a pool, theatre and other amenities

By Mike Rego
Posted 2/16/23

EAST PROVIDENCE — If the long sought after community/recreation center is constructed as proposed by the administration of Mayor Bob DaSilva, it would come with a price tag of some $45 million …

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DaSilva’s proposed East Providence Rec Center would cost $45 million to construct

Multi-faceted project would include a pool, theatre and other amenities


EAST PROVIDENCE — If the long sought after community/recreation center is constructed as proposed by the administration of Mayor Bob DaSilva, it would come with a price tag of some $45 million before any dirt is disturbed or any part is purchased.

Some 11 months since DaSilva initiated his public outreach and just a few weeks into his second term in office, for which he made it a focal point, the mayor approached the City Council at its meeting last Tuesday night, Feb. 21, with the most detailed proposal to date about the project.

DaSilva led a presentation to the body along with  David Andrade and Kathryn Laufenberg from the design firm William Starck Architects, with offices in Providence and Fall River.

The some 61,000 square foot building would be constructed on the grounds of the Robert Rock/East Providence Senior Center at the corner of Waterman and Pawtucket Avenues, a site the mayor and the architects said was a key element of the project with its central location, access to bus routes and proximity to East Providence High School.

It would be a two-story structure built around a large gymnasium on the first floor and an elevated walking track on the second floor, similar to the facility inside the new EPHS across the street.

Also like the new EPHS, the center would have an auditorium/theatre, which would include seating for audiences of over 300, a 50-foot by 20-foot stage and a sound booth.

In addition, the center would include administrative offices for the Recreation Department and public safety units, learning areas in the vain of classrooms as well as spaces for daycare.

Unlike the new high school but akin to the one it replaced, the center would house an eight-lane swimming pool with bleachers for spectators, an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant lift and restrooms/bathing areas.

The central component of the exterior would be on approach at the entrance where a paved patio could be used as gathering space for such things as farmers markets or seasonal outdoor concerts.

Broken down individually, Andrade told the council the main structure with the gym and administrative offices for the Rec Department would cost about $19 million. The auditorium and the pool cost approximately $7 million apiece. Site work, parking and other infrastructure needs, like water/sewer lines, would also come in at around $7 million. The balance of the $45 million would pay for construction and design fees.

In making his pitch to the council DaSilva said the center would serve “multiple purposes.”

Of having a police presence in the facility, he said it was about “developing and growing a program to engage youth…really grow that bond between the police and the community.” It would also offer both the police and fire departments local facilities to conduct training and conditioning exercises.

DaSilva said from his perspective he sees the new center “as a complete, multi faceted facility that would meet many, many needs” and that it would be used at “different times of the day by different segments of our community.” He said the center would serve the senior population as well as youths from at both the middle and high school levels.

Of the aquatics component, DaSilva said he was “really excited” about the pool, adding though the city does have the “best high school in the state, its students have to go away from their own facility for their training and competitions.”

DaSilva said he did ask the architects to design the project in such a way could build in “portions.” “Ideally,” he continued, it would be “built once to save on costs.”

Building the center in phases would be “like kicking the can down the road,” Andrade added, noting any delay would likely mean increases in the price of materials and the need “remobilize” other aspects like the design and bidding processes.

If taken out individually, the pool and its amenities would save some $8.5 million and the auditorium $7 million. The make the building one floor instead of two would save about $6.5 million. But if the intention would be to retain the walking track, the added square footage to the main floor would nullify any savings.

The overarching question, of course, is how will the community center be paid for.

DaSilva repeated the same sources as were mentioned more vaguely when he originally spoke about the project both in the spring and late summer of last year.

He said he would use a share East Providence’s roughly $28 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act allocation, pursue the pot of state money set aside by the administration of Gov. Dan McKee for community centers, attempt to access the police department’s asset forfeiture kitty from the decade-old Google pharmaceutical case or approach the voters to seek approval to “float a small bond.”

The only actual money DaSilva has on hand is the $3 million Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-Dist. 1) appropriated for 11 projects in his district in the federal Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

When asked how the city would pay for operational expenses, DaSilva said most of the facility would be run and cared for by existing city personnel. Only the pool would require either hiring additional employees or it could be contracted to an outside vendor.

The majority of the expenses would be garnered through rental fees, using that revenue to pay for any maintenance, up-keep or janitorial services.

DaSilva said, “I feel fully confident with all of the different program out there, not just in East Providence, but in the surrounding area we would generate a profit running this operation.”

The proposal was met with generally positive reviews from the five councilors, though with a hint of skepticism.

Ward 2’s Anna Sousa said her concern was how those who paid for it, taxpayers, would be able to access it while at the same time allowing outside rentals to make it feasible to pay for operational costs.

Ward 4’s Rick Lawson said he thought the concepts were “gorgeous,” though he said he wasn’t “sold” on including the pool, citing the presence like facilities such as the PODs center a few blocks from the Senior Center on Commercial Way, the Boys & Girls Club on Williams Avenue and the Bayside YMCA a few miles south in Barrington.

Lawson also noted the other operational costs of an auditorium like sound and lighting specialists. He also worried about the increased traffic at the already busy location as well as more redundancies with programs offered at others city facilities like the Fuller Creative Learning Center on Dover Avenue.

“Let’s let the ‘Townies’ decide…I’m just one voice of 47 (thousand),” Lawson said.

He continued, referring to the two previous votes of residents to approve some sort of Rec Center in the early 2000s, “Let’s make sure we do it right. Let’s give the ‘Townies’ what they want, but let’s do it right…Let’s not the let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

DaSilva said, if necessary, he wanted to expedite the process of putting any bond referendum related to the project to the voters by having a question ready for the special election being called this November to, ironically, fill Cicilline’s House seat.

The same day as last week’s council meeting, Cicilline announced he was retiring from Congress as of June 1 to become the CEO of the non-profit Rhode Island Foundation. Cicilline, the former mayor of Providence, has held the House District 1 seat since being elected in November of 2010.

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